Ex-KID worker testifies about why he lost job

Brad Wellenbrock told a jury Thursday that he was "surprised and shocked" when Doug Grover, newly hired as manager of the Kennewick Irrigation District, told him in November 2007 that "all five board members wanted me fired."

Wellenbrock, who was engineering manager at KID when he was fired, also testified in Benton County Superior Court that he received a pay raise of 4.34 percent, making his annual salary $81,000 at the beginning of the summer.

Five months later, he was placed on paid administrative leave and officially fired in February 2008.

Wellenbrock's whistleblower lawsuit alleges he lost his job in retaliation for having complained that KID board President Loren Watts had taken advantage of his position to access KID water without authorization.

Wellenbrock also told the jury that he kept interim district Manager Vic Johnson informed about Watts' alleged improper activities and there was no indication that Johnson sided with Watts.

An incident in the summer of 2007 involving Watts Construction Co. representatives breaking into a fenced KID pond and placing a pump into the pond for removing water prompted Harry Fox, operations manager, to set up a meeting with a Watts employee so Wellenbrock could get the whole story, Wellenbrock testified.

Wellenbrock testified that he was all set to video and audio record the meeting, but the Watts manager objected to being on camera, and left in anger.

Recording the meeting would have provided evidence of what Wellenbrock said he considered a criminal act against KID.

Wellenbrock told the jury he did not report the alleged attempted theft of KID water to police, leaving that decision for Johnson. No report was filed.

Under cross examination by KID's attorney, George Fearing of Kennewick, Wellenbrock said he was disappointed when Grover, who resigned as a board member in August 2007, was chosen to be secretary-manager.

As a board member, Grover had criticized Wellenbrock publicly at two KID board meetings for not having a professional engineer's license, even though KID hired Wellenbrock as engineering manager without requiring the license.

"(Grover) said I was an embarrassment to KID because I didn't have a P.E. license. It angered me and was very unprofessional," Wellenbrock said.

Wellenbrock said he was unemployed for 15 months before getting a job with better pay at Hanford. But that job will end at the end of September.

Wellenbrock said despite the difficulties he experienced in the summer of 2007 with KID and the remarks Grover made about him, he had what he felt was a career job that would carry him to retirement.

Wellenbrock told the jury that he lost about $90,000 in back wages, plus $9,000 in retirement benefits by being fired.

Testimony continues this morning at 9 a.m. today, with defense witnesses expected to start Tuesday.